Biden’s AI concerns were fuelled by a Mission: Impossible movie night

President’s concerns about AI increased after watching Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One at Camp David

Gustaf Kilander
Washington, DC
Thursday 02 November 2023 11:12 GMT
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Related video: Biden reacts to watching deepfakes of himself: ‘When the hell did I say that?’

Joe Biden’s concerns about the rapid development of artificial intelligence were boosted after watching the most recent Mission Impossible film during a weekend spent at the presidential retreat Camp David in rural Maryland.

The president was engaged in meetings about the technology in the months that preceded the signing on Monday of an executive order governing the use of AI.

Mr Biden met twice with the Science Advisory Council to discuss AI and he brought up the technology during two cabinet meetings.

At several gatherings, Mr Biden also pushed tech industry leaders and advocates regarding what the technology is capable of.

Deputy White House Chief of Staff Bruce Reed told the Associated Press that Hollywood added to Mr Biden’s concern outside of the official meetings - when he watched Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One one weekend at Camp David. At the beginning of the film, the antagonist, an AI called “the Entity”, sinks a submarine, killing its crew.

“If he hadn’t already been concerned about what could go wrong with AI before that movie, he saw plenty more to worry about,” Mr Reed told the AP.

As for the official meetings, Mr Reed said that Mr Biden “was as impressed and alarmed as anyone” about what he was shown.

“He saw fake AI images of himself, of his dog,” he added. “He saw how it can make bad poetry. And he’s seen and heard the incredible and terrifying technology of voice cloning, which can take three seconds of your voice and turn it into an entire fake conversation.”

The AI-created images and audio prompted Mr Biden to push for the labelling of AI-created content. He was also concerned about older people getting a phone call from an AI tool using a fake voice sounding like a family member or other loved one for the purpose of committing a scam.

Meetings on AI often went long, with the president once telling advocates: “This is important. Take as long as you need.”

Mr Biden also spoke to scientists about the possible positive impacts of the technology, such as explaining the beginning of the universe, and the modelling of extreme weather events such as floods, where old data has become inaccurate because of the changes caused by the climate crisis.

On Monday at the White House, Mr Biden addressed the concerns about “deepfakes” during a speech in connection with the signing of the order.

“With AI, fraudsters can take a three-second recording of your voice, I have watched one of me on a couple of occasions. I said, ‘When the hell did I say that?’” Mr Biden said to laughter from the audience.

“A three-second recording of your voice to generate an impersonation good enough to fool your family, or you. I swear to God. Take a look at it. It’s mind-blowing. And they can use it to scam loved ones into sending money because they think you are in trouble.”

“We can’t move at a normal government pace,” White House Chief of Staff Jeff Zients quoted Mr Biden as telling his staff, according to the AP. “We have to move as fast, if not faster than the technology itself.”

Mr Biden believes that the US government was late to the game to take into account the risks of social media, leading to the related mental health issues now seen among US youth.

While AI may help drastically develop cancer research, foresee the impacts of the climate crisis, and improve the economy and public services, it may also spread fake images, audio and videos, with possibly widespread political consequences. Other harmful effects include the worsening of racial and social inequality and the possibility that it can be used to commit crimes, such as fraud.

The White House said on Monday that the sweeping executive order will address concerns about safety and security, privacy, equity and civil rights, the rights of consumers, patients, and students, and supporting workers.

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